Impeachment case: Credibility of Sereno accuser Gadon challenged
The credibility of the principal accuser of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno was challenged at Wednesday’s hearing on her impeachment case, although the House justice committee denied the top magistrate’s plea to allow her lawyers to question witnesses on her behalf.
Lawyer Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon, who filed the impeachment complaint against Sereno, faced questions challenging his personal knowledge and documentation of the charges he leveled against her.
He admitted on at least two occasions during the hearing that he did not personally know the circumstances nor possess authentic records of the charges, including the allegation that Sereno altered a temporary restraining order (TRO) drafted by Supreme Court Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro without full-court approval in 2013.
In responding to questions about the TRO, Gadon said he learned about Sereno’s alleged tampering with the document from a Manila Times reporter and later confirmed it with Supreme Court insiders.
Asked by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon if he confirmed the tampering with De Castro personally, Gadon replied: “No, your honor. Not directly.”
“There must be some problem here,” Leachon said.
De Castro statement
In a statement, De Castro said: “I have never released to [Manila Times reporter] Jomar Canlas any information, report or document regarding the work of the court.”
Gadon was also grilled by Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun on a memorandum issued by De Castro that was cited by the complainant.
The lawyer admitted he did not have a copy of that document as well.
“When I talked to [Supreme Court Clerk of Court] Felipa Anama, she told me they still cannot find this memorandum. But Associate Justice De Castro herself has affirmed in the media that she has the memorandum,” he said, citing a story by an Inquirer.net reporter.
Asked by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, the justice committee chair, if he personally confirmed this information with De Castro, Gadon replied: “I have a common friend who is a go-between.”
Fortun commented: “I’m just wary that the allegation … is based on neither authentic documents nor personal knowledge. There’s a reference to a memorandum, but the memorandum is not attached to this complaint. The complainant has admitted now he has yet to see this memorandum. That is my concern insofar as the allegation is concerned.”
But coming to Gadon’s defense, Umali said the committee had already ruled on the impeachment complaint being sufficient in form and substance.
Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop also pointed out that a copy of the De Castro memorandum was actually attached to the dismissed impeachment complaint filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.
“Are we to take cognizance of documents in a dismissed case?” said Siquijor Rep. Ramon Rocamora.
Umali, however, said this was “in the province” of the committee’s work.
Gadon has accused Sereno of, among other charges, failing to declare her real wealth, buying a luxury car with government funds and making questionable decisions without consulting her fellow magistrates.
In a discussion of his charge that Sereno had failed to fully declare P30 million in lawyer’s fees that she had earned as government lawyer in the Piatco case, Gadon said he calculated that the Chief Justice failed to account for P14 million in her financial statement.
Under questioning by Rocamora, however, Gadon said he did not know whether Sereno, then a law professor at the University of the Philippines, declared the amounts before 2010, the year she joined the judiciary.
Determining probable cause
The justice committee is trying to determine whether there is probable cause to impeach Sereno based on Gadon’s charges, after previously finding the complaint sufficient in form and substance, and with sufficient grounds.
Once probable cause is established, the committee will send the articles of impeachment derived from the impeachment grounds to the plenary for approval.
A vote of one-third of the 293 members of the House is needed to send the case to the Senate for trial.
Sereno’s lawyers were barred on Wednesday from taking part in the hearing by a 30-4 vote.
The panel also rejected, by a vote of 30-3, the plea of nonmembers of the committee, including opposition lawmakers Edcel Lagman of Albay and Tom Villarin of Akbayan, to be allowed to take part in the hearing.
Shortly after the vote, Sereno’s lawyers led by Alexander Poblador excused themselves and left the room.
Poblador made it clear to reporters that it was not a “walkout.”
“We asked the chair for permission,” he said.
But Poblador hinted that Sereno’s legal team was moving on from the House proceedings to concentrate on a bigger battle: the looming impeachment trial in the Senate.
“We are looking forward for this case to be brought to the Senate, and we are confident we will be able to defend the Chief Justice there consistent with her constitutional rights,” he said.
In arguing against the right of Sereno’s lawyers to cross-examine witnesses, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas cited the plunder case of former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who, the Supreme Court ruled, did not even have the right to be furnished a copy of the complaint at the preliminary investigation stage.
“Senators [Jinggoy] Estrada, [Bong] Revilla and [Juan Ponce] Enrile were detained in jail … They were sitting senators of the republic yet they were not even afforded the right to cross-examine any of the complainants, because that may come during the trial,” he said.
He said Sereno had even concurred in that decision.
Fariñas also cited the case of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was not allowed a preliminary hearing in his own impeachment, “because he did not have the right.”
Addressing Sereno’s lawyers in the gallery, he said: “If you want to participate here, then become congressmen first.”
To the Chief Justice, he said: “We’re not in trial yet. For all she knows, we may dismiss this.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.